Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies were ordered to delete any photos taken at the scene of the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant and eight others and doing so would clear them of any discipline, it was reported Friday evening.
The order was given in the days after Jan. 26 crash into a Calabasas hillside during a meeting at the sheriff’s Lost Hills Station in Malibu and came after a complaint was filed that a deputy was showing the images to others at a bar in Norwalk, according to public safety sources who spoke on condition of anonymity to the Los Angeles Times.
The complaint was sent to the Sheriff’s Information Bureau. The head of the bureau, Capt. Jorge Valdez, told The Times Wednesday he was not aware of the complaint and “there was no order given to delete any photographs.”
Sources told The Times Friday that Valdez was among those who handled the complaint.
TMZ reported deputies and members of the Los Angeles County Fire Department had taken and shared the photos.
“Law enforcement sources tell TMZ, multiple L.A. County Sheriff’s deputies who responded to the crash scene took photos that included remains. We’re told one of the deputies — a trainee — took photos and at some point went to a bar and, as one source put it, `He tried to impress a girl by showing her the photos.’ We’re told the bartender overheard the conversation and filed an online complaint with the Sheriff’s Dept.
“We’re also told the cellphone photos were passed around at the Lost Hills Sheriff’s substation — the first responders to the crash. Sources say deputies from other substations around L.A. County also took cellphone photos.”
In a statement issued by the department Friday, Sheriff Alex Villanueva said he was “deeply disturbed at the thought deputies could allegedly engage in such an insensitive act.”
Villanueva went on to pledge in the statement that “a thorough investigation will be conducted by the department, with the No. 1 priority of protecting the dignity and privacy of the victims and their families.”
It’s unclear how many people saw or received the photos without authorization, The Times reported.
The sharing of photos of the crash scene and the victims’ remains was the topic of a discussion among first responders two days after the crash, a public safety source with knowledge of the events told The Times. The source said he saw one of the photos in a setting separate from the crash’s investigation.
Brian Williams, executive director of the Civilian Oversight Commission, told The Times sheriff’s department officials would be questioned next week.
The Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, the union that represents deputies, said Friday “as with all investigations, we will aggressively represent our members and preserve their rights.”
The sheriff’s department and other Los Angeles-area law enforcement agencies have struggled with keeping confidential information in high-profile cases from being shared in the past.
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